Greek Tragedy: An Introduction

Antigone and the Body of PolynicesGreek tragedy is an ancient form of theatre that peaked in Athens around the 5th century B.C. These tragedies were often based on characters from mythology, as well as the oral epic tradition, and featured dramatic actors, backed by a Greek chorus. Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are still performed in venues around the world.

This sculpture in the classical style shows "Antigone Pouring a Libation over the Corpse of Her Brother Polynices," by William Henry Rinehart, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Antigone Pouring a Libation over the Corpse of Her Brother Polynices by William Henry Rinehart, 1867-1870; carved 1870.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of the family of John H. Hall, in his memory, 1891 (91.4).

Antigone is a tragedy by the Greek playwright, Sophocles, c. 441 BC. Antigone is the third of Sophocles’ Theban plays, which include Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The three plays are not a trilogy, but all concern the fate of Thebes during and after the reign of the mythical King Oedipus.

You will be studying Antigone in Module 5.2. Here below is a video from National Theatre, UK, that discusses some of the elements of Greek tragedy. Listening to it will not only introduce to this art form, but it will also help you pronounce the Greek names correctly. Be aware that the video is illustrated with scenes from productions of Greek tragedy, so if you are sensitive to the sight of fake blood, you will want to close your eyes between 4:45 and 5:00 (time is displayed at lower left).

If you’re interested in learning more about classical Greek literature, you may want to read Ian Johnston’s lecture on that subject.

EIL Ancient Greek Literature Resources Index

EIL 5.2 Sophocles Context


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